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By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent
ZAGREB, CROATIA (BosNewsLife)– Croatia has joined the European Union as the 28th member state after celebrations that were overshadowed by concerns about its future.
Yes, church bells rang as heavily Catholic Croatia welcomed European officials for a group photo and dinner to celebrate its entry into the EU.
Yet, while the heads of state from all six ex-Yugoslav republics were among the guests, leaders of several EU nations such as Britain, France and notably Germany — the first to recognize Croatia’s independence — did not attend.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel cited “a full workload” to excuse herself from Croatia’s event, but media linked her absence to tensions between the two countries.
Zagreb has refused to hand over to Berlin an alleged spy wanted in connection with a communist-era assassination in what was West Germany.
Josip Perkovic is wanted in connection with the killing 30 years ago of Stjepan Djurekovic, an exiled Croatian dissident who opposed the Communist system of what was than Yugoslavia.
Additionally, Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic acknowledged that his nation was also slightly “curving its enthusiasm” as it took more than two decades since the war for independence from Yugoslavia before his country of 4.4 million people could join the EU.
“This bridge has been quite long for us. A long journey, with a lot of scrutiny, a lot of checks and balances, a lot of chapters. Twenty-two years ago it looked to me as if everything should be resolved in a fortnight in two weeks and that we quickly would be jump in. But than the war happened and it wouldn’t come to pass till today.”
No wonder his government allocated just 700.000 euro for the festivities of this nation of 4.4 million. Opinion polls also showed that nearly half, of Croats (some 42 percent) did not want any ceremony, and just seven percent wanted fireworks amid uncertainty whether EU membership will improve their lives.
ODE TO JOY
Despite the limitations, authorities still managed to scramble together fireworks, cannon-fire and Beethoven’s Ode to Joy at midnight Sunday, with tthousands packing Zagreb’s Ban Jelacic square to celebrate Croatia’s accession, setting aside for a moment the troubles of a country in its fifth year of recession. Bells rang out from Zagreb Cathedral and two men in white abseiled from a nearby building carrying the flag of the EU.
“This will change the life of this nation for good. I welcome you wholeheartedly,” Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, told the crowd.
Yet Milanovic cautioned earlier that he realized the Monday that Croatia officially joins “will be just another working day” as “much remains to be done” for a nation with some 21 percent unemployment.
Attracting more tourists to its sun-kissed Adriatic coast may not be enough to improve Croatia’s troubled economy, analysts warn. Amid economic woes, a Facebook website page advising Croatian youth how to leave the country has 60,000 friends.
While domestic troubles will be high on his agenda, Milanovic also pledged to support the EU entry of Croatia’s former enemies and neighbors, including Serbia, which was told last week that membership talks would start in January next year.
“Their absence from the EU creates a sort of strategic gap within the European belly,” noted Milanovic. “Serbia just got a prospect of the kick off talks, next year. That process it going to be long [but] we will do anything we can to do our best that it is not going to be overlong,” he told reporters.
Despite a sense of Déjà vu, Euopean Parliament President Martin Schulz tried to sound upbeat. “Bienvenue la Croatie and welcome Croatia…Let’s enjoy together a peaceful successful future for the European together with the Croatians as a part of the European family. Welcome Prime Pinister Milanovic,” he said on loud applause of invited quests.
That view was shared by at least one young man: “Twenty years ago, we had a war, and after 20 years we will be part of the European family. We hope the situation will be better for entrepreneurs and the economy in what is the twenty eighth star of the EU.”
(BosNewsLife’s NEWS WATCH is a regular look at key general news developments from especially, but not limited to, (former) Communist countries and other autocratic states impacting the Church and/or other compassionate professionals).
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